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home grown feed?

Discussion in 'Feeding & Watering Your Flock' started by Firework, Dec 6, 2008.

  1. Firework

    Firework Songster

    Nov 30, 2008
    MY questions concern what food I can create for our chickens (meat birds and layers) as an alternative to purchasing it to keep costs down.

    Do chickens like night crawler? What percentage of their diet could they be? .

    What about growing kentucky pole beans (which are extraordinarily prolific) for dry beans as a protein feed as compared to soybeans? Does anyone know the protein content of dried pole beans? While soybeans contain about 30% more portein than other beans (kidney, lima, navy, pinto, etc) one pole bean will produce about 300% more beans than a soy bean plant. Would the beans have to be roasted like soybeans that contain an enzyme which is poisonous to chickens? Or would it be more beneficial (efficient) to feed them fresh green beans during the summer?
    Are there other garden crops that are efficient to grow for chickens as an alternative to purchased feed? I know they will eat almost any vegetable crops but I am talking about particular high protein crops grown to harvest, dry, store for winter feeding.

  2. tackyrama

    tackyrama Songster

    Aug 14, 2008
    Central Minnesota USA
    I don't know about beans but I am developing a bed of Comfrey. Comfrey has very high protein content higher than most forage crops used in the US. Almost as high as alfalfa. There are different strains and bocking #6 is the best for forage. It has certain advantages over natural comfrey. Natural comfrey is very invasive. The bocking strain is infertil and must be cultivated from root cuttings. Many cuttings can be made from one plant after two years and it don't take long to have a sizable plot. It is very productive and plants last for 20 years or more. 5 to 6 cuttings can be made from a plant without harm if properly fertilized. Even if left alone with no fertilizer I get 3 cuttings easily. The root system goes down 10 to 15 feet or more bringing up nutrients and minerals from deep in the ground.

    Comfrey has been used in eastern Europe for centuries but never caught on here. This is primarily because of high water content. It is difficult to dry as it takes up to three days in ideal weather before it can be put up. It also has a hairy leaf and many animals will not eat if other foods are available. This is over come by letting it wilt before feeding it green. This relaxes the hairs. Also feeding comfrey from a very early age will make it acceptable to most animals. I plan on drying and chopping to mix in with other feed.

    I have already used it to feed rabbits very succesfully. I have also used it to feed chopped green to baby chicks still in the brooder. They just love it being their first taste of anything green. They do very well feeding green comfrey along with chick starter.

    Comfrey plants are large broadleaf plants spreading to about 3ft in dia. and 2 to 3 ft high. I do not need to cultivate at all as they shade out any competition. They get purple flowers but are supposed to be harvested before flowering. I just started my flock of chickens this summer and right now have 22 chickens. 5 or 6 more will go in the freezer and that wil;l leave me my permanent flock. I will grow 25 to 50 meat birds (dual purpose breed) next summer and will start using comfrey to help feed them. I will keep expanding my plot of comfrey until I am satisfied I have enough.

    I think comfrey should be considered by anyone raising their own chickens as a easily available free source of feed. It is especially convenient for anyone not having a lot of acres for the purpose of raising feed.

    There are many websites about comfrey. Here is one but there are better ones too.

    Check it out. Feel free to ask me questions and I will answer if I can. I can even provide a limitied supply of cutting this spring to a few BYC friends. By the way some chickens like night crawlers, some don't. Mine don't.
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2008
  3. digitS'

    digitS' Songster

    Dec 12, 2007
    ID/WA border
    Welcome to BYC, New Bird [​IMG]!!

    You are asking the $64,000 question: What can I grow and feed more cheaply to my chickens than I can purchase?

    Wheat, sunflowers, and millet have all been grown in my garden. I've had to ask myself how much ground I want to devote to these crops. They aren't very expensive to purchase. However, they certainly can extend the time that I can feed the birds out of the garden.

    You are right - protein is the "nut to crack" since carbohydrates can be quite easily grown. It is certainly possible to grow as many pounds of beans or peas per 1,000 square feet, or acre, as wheat - for example. But, these legumes would require processing beyond what wheat or another cereal grain would need.

    Poultry will benefit from the heat processing of all legumes in their feed because they all have some level of antinutrients. I think you are right that there would be less to none of these toxins in fresh green beans but there would also be less of some of the nutrients. Dry beans can be easily stored for a good long time - green beans cannot be so easily stored.

    You can do some searches of BYC using terms like "garden" along with the names of particular foods like wheat, beets, kale, and those sorts of things. Also, the university websites (using google "site:edu") for "forage crops" will give you an idea of what is grown for livestock on farms. Ruminants are not quite the same critters as chickens, however, but they can eat some of the same food. The chicken just can't utilize very much cellulous roughage.

    Another "field" to explore is the pasturing of poultry on annual forage.

    Then, please share your ideas and experiences with us BYC’ers.

    Quote:From that website: "The presence of toxic alkaloids is also a problem. . . . comfrey should no longer be considered a crop that can be consumed by humans or animals with complete safety."

    Those words of caution "Last update November 17, 1997"

    From the same webpage: "Three ounces of dried turnip greens or spinach, in comparison to 20 oz of dried comfrey, supply adults with the total daily requirement of all essential amino acids, except for methionine."

    Doesn't that suggest that turnip greens or spinach are preferable protein sources, 3 ounces to 20 ounces?

  4. tackyrama

    tackyrama Songster

    Aug 14, 2008
    Central Minnesota USA
    Yes there are alkaloids present in comfrey but as in many things we commonly eat and are associated with only harmful in massive doses. Much research has been done on this subject and there are many reports. Comfrey has been used for centuries in Russia and other countrys as forage. I'm not trying to preach comfrey all I'm saying is get the facts not the scare headlines. Following are a couple of quotes off the internet:

    "Comfrey probably has the widest range of uses in a permaculture system of any plant.

    The leaves are a useful addition to compost or used as mulch, as they contain silica, nitrogen, magnesium, calcium, potassium and iron. It is lush & fast growing plants so provides abundant supplies of mulch, planted in the orchard, it can be slashed to provide mulch under fruit trees. Comfrey leaves are about 17% nitrogen (horse manure is about 14%) and the leaves readily decompose when soaked in water to make a liquid manure.

    The whole plant is an excellent soil conditioner, the roots penetrate deep into the subsoil and are able to access nutrients beyond the reach of more shallow-rooted plants. This allows the gardener to cycle nutrients leached from the topsoil back to the surface by cutting comfrey leaves and using them as mulch. This deep nutrient mining is particularly useful for the health of soils in heavy rainfall areas. The large, deep roots of comfrey act to break up compacted soils. Plant comfrey downhill from poultry runs or animal pens to trap the nutrients that would otherwise be washed away in heavy rain.

    Weed barrier; one of its more unusual attributes is its ability to stop running grasses in their tracks. When comfrey is planted as a ‘weed barrier’, it should be in a strip several plants wide.

    Animal forage; the flowers are an excellent bee forage, the leaves are high in protein, vitamins and minerals and are readily eaten by poultry. Comfrey has been used as an animal forage for centuries and can be fed to cattle, rabbits, sheep, pigs and horses."

    " I am in the process of greatly expanding my comfrey plantings. (It is an extraordinarily easy plant to propagate.) The next big “wave” of propagation will feature planting comfrey patches out on the pasture, where the birds will “graze” the comfrey themselves. I plan to keep the plantings tight, dense, and relatively small. They are incredibly tough plants, but if they seem to be suffering from over-grazing by the birds, I can protect the patches with temporary fencing.

    Both comfrey and stinging nettle can be dried and fed as “hay.” My experiments with both have been challenging thus far—they are much more fragile than a grass hay. My next attempts with both will feature thorough drying, then stuffing into large burlap bags, in which the shattering into leaf meal will not be a problem. I will experiment with feeding straight, and with adding to ground feeds.

    It should be added that in recent years there has been some “scare talk” from official quarters about pyrrolizidine alkoloids found in comfrey. The alkoloids are indeed present, and are indeed toxic to the liver in massive, pure doses. However, my conclusion from research I have done is that there is no toxicity problem, acute or chronic, associated with consumption of whole comfrey, by either humans or livestock. (See Comfrey Report , by Lawrence D. Hills.) Whenever I slaughter fowl, I practice a form of divination I call “reading the livers.” As long as the livers of birds who have been eating comfrey remain healthy and free of abcesses, I will have no concerns about feeding comfrey."
  5. jjparke

    jjparke Songster

    Apr 20, 2008
    I don't know how good it is for their diet but my chicks love my corn on the cob. I harvested, left it on the cob, vaccum sealed and threw it in the freezer. I thaw a bag out every couple of days and when they see me coming they go nuts. I think it's pretty good for them. It's corn right.
  6. digitS'

    digitS' Songster

    Dec 12, 2007
    ID/WA border
    Sorry, New Bird, we may be hijacking your thread . . . [​IMG] I'll say one more thing and stop:

    digitS' :

    . . . Those words of caution "Last update November 17, 1997"

    . . . . Doesn't that suggest that turnip greens or spinach are preferable protein sources, 3 ounces to 20 ounces?


    Doesn't look like comfrey scare talk on my part. If there was anything to worry folks about - - it was given in the research from your citation at Purdue University.

    I've been hearing about comfrey for 40 years. In all that time, I've worked in agriculture and, long before the "official scare talk," never saw any commercial planting of comfrey. Yes, people had it in their gardens and sometimes fed it to their chickens. Some of them did this with no apparent harm.

    But, farmers are a hard-headed lot. They are certainly going to grow whatever crop that they feel will give them the best results.

    In North America, it is difficult to know what might be happening with comfrey today on a commercial scale since both the governments of the US and Canada stepped in on the issue of safety some time ago.

    The Russians did this or that we hear but never see anything from the UN (which looks at agriculture to a nit-picking degree world-wide) on any commercial use of comfrey.

    Here's what a study of comfrey in Scandinavia found: "Russian comfrey was outyielded by both leys and annual fodder crops (Italian ryegrass, Westerwold ryegrass, fodder rape, fodder turnips, marrow stem kale). The crude protein content was somewhat higher, but the digestibility much lower than in grass. . . . . Growing of Russian comfrey is not recommended because of low yields, high costs of establishment and a content of toxic alkaloids."

  7. tackyrama

    tackyrama Songster

    Aug 14, 2008
    Central Minnesota USA
    Well my chicks loved it and grew like crazy. Now I'll stop.

  8. jvls1942

    jvls1942 Crowing

    Oct 16, 2008
    My wife started a comfry plant about 20 years ago.. as it grows in the yard , in a 8 ft diameter spot.
    nothing seems to want to eat it as it grows..not even cottontail rabbits.. I guess it must have to be processed to use it..

    Now, what I like to do is rotate my garden plots. when I want a plot to go dormant I plant buckwheat. It is so dense that nothing grows but buckwheat.. I just let it go and whe it gets mature the chickens and ducks and whatever wants to go in and harvest what they want.
    the rest gets turne under in the spring time for green manure.. It really loosens up your soil and adds nutrients also.. takes no tools to harvest or plant other than regular garden tools like a plow and drag or a garden tiller.
    small plots can be hand dug or just scatter the seeds in amongst the garden residue.. not the best way to go, but it can be done..

    If the crop is left alone, it will resead itself the next year..
  9. Comfrey is an acquired taste for a lot of animals. My sheep and goats just love it when I throw them a handful of comfrey leaves. When I have a group of animals that haven't had comfrey before, I scatter some on the ground and then throw some grain over the comfrey, that gets them started.

    My geese ate comfrey without any preparation, in fact they wiped out my main comfrey plantings. (Then they got wiped out by deciding to 'play' with my dog.)

    I'm going to get some Bocking 4 comfrey which is supposedly the best variety for livestock, highest in protein. It's available from Richter's Herb.

    I also have a lot of stinging nettle plants, the geese ate those too but didn't wipe them out. Will have to cut some for the chickens this year. You do get stung by stinging nettle from time to time, but that's said to be good for arthritis. At least, it takes your mind off the arthritis for a spell. [​IMG]

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